An MK’s last flight with his dad into the remote jungle of Papua results in an unexpectedly enthusiastic welcome to remember.
Recently, my son, Taylor, went flying with me for the day—one last time. With graduation coming up, he had a free day with no finals, so I invited him to hop in with me. That day, he really got carried away. Literally.
We had two passengers: a missionary returning to visit the people he had previously worked with and a community development specialist I’ll call “Matt”. We had a nice tailwind for the Porter, and in an hour and fifteen minutes we arrived overhead the runway at Acodi. It’s nestled in the bottom of a pretty deep canyon with foothills to the north and mountains towering up to about 12,000 feet to the south. The top of the mountains are marked with craggy limestone cliffs and plunging waterfalls. The foothills are carpeted with a dense jungle canopy providing habitat to a flock of cockatoos I spotted flying below us.
The rollout on the grass runway was pretty rough. It’s 1,300 feet long, built entirely by hand by villagers through the virgin jungle using only stone axes, rocks, and bark “sleds” to carry the dirt. They had very few outside tools, not even wheelbarrows or shovels. The surface is passable, so I give the villagers an “A+” for effort.
As the turbine engine spooled down, its sound was replaced by the chanting of the welcoming committee, which consisted of the entire village dressed up for a special reception. They were dancing in a circle around the plane with their bodies caked in mud. When Matt exited the plane, he was immediately picked up by a half-dozen guys and carried off to the welcoming house in a cacophony of whoops and chants. They returned to the plane after depositing Matt in the house and headed for Taylor. His eyes got wide and I could almost hear his thoughts, “Oh boy, looks like I’m next!”
And that mud I mentioned all over their bodies … was now all over Taylor and Matt too. I wisely remained in the plane a bit longer.
The testimony of the villagers was overwhelming. The missionary broke down with emotion as he translated testimonies like, “We were lost until we accepted the sacrifice of Jesus to save us,” and looking at Matt and me said, “Because you left your families and homes and came to serve us, we are now believers and we are all one tribe together and some day will be in heaven together!” My work as a missionary pilot is always worth it, but hearing testimonies like these makes it extra special for me.